How to Treat Concussions in Youth Sports

What to Do When an Athlete Has a Concussion

If a player has had a blow to the head, been knocked down or out, or has any concussion symptoms, he or she should be removed from play immediately.

"Unlike an ankle injury where there are obvious physical signs, a head injury can be more subtle," says Dr. K. Brooke Pengel, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver, Colorado. "It's important for parents and coaches to recognize that a blow to the head can lead to more serious injuries. The athlete should be removed from play immediately and not permitted to return to play, this isn't just in youth sports, but at any level."

After a bump or a blow, a young athlete may think he or she is OK to continue playing and want to stay in the game. This is where the coach and team trainer need to step in, and not allow the athlete to continue playing.

"Coaches and team trainers should always err on the side of caution," Busby says. "The saying has been around for years and I still use it: 'When in doubt, sit them out.'"

After an athlete is taken out of the game, the coach should notify the child's parents about the injury, and even if there's a team doctor, the parents should take their son or daughter to a physician for further evaluation.

"A doctor will advise the parents if their son or daughter should be taken to the emergency room or if he or she can return home," Pengel says. "If the injury seems mild and the child is sent home, the parents should check on him or her at least once during the night to make sure they're OK and that their symptoms have not progressed.

Regardless of the severity of the concussion, a doctor is the only one who can determine if the athlete can return to his or her sport.

"A player must be cleared by a medical professional before he or she can return to play," Busby says. "Usually athletes can return to light activity after a week of rest, but this could be longer depending on the length and severity of the concussion."

It's important for an athlete to get adequate rest before returning to his or her sport, so make sure to follow your doctor's advice.

"Returning to activity too early is extremely dangerous and not something that should be taken lightly," Busby says. "If an athlete hasn't fully healed, he or she is at a greater risk for Second Impact Syndrome (rapid and severe brain swelling), which will have worse, longer lasting effects."

The best strategy for parents and coaches to treat and prevent concussions is to be prepared.

"Parents and coaches should be educated about what the injury is and the proper protocols," Pengel says. "Concussions can present themselves in a lot of different ways, even in subtle situations. It's not always easy to determine if a player has a concussion. Educate yourself, even about the atypical signs."

More: How Fruit Helps You Recover From a Big Game

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